A Practical Guide to Reaching New People in Your Church

Most churches want to reach people and help them grow in their faith.
After all, that’s the Great Commission.  We’re supposed to go into the world (evangelism) and make disciples (discipleship).
Those are the two primary activities of every church.
The two jobs to be done.
But let’s be honest.
Most churches do a better job at serving their members than they do reaching new people.
Even though the organizational pull is to care for insiders, for a church to grow and thrive, it must reach new people.
If your church is serious about reaching new guests, particularly those who are not attending any other church, here are five things to consider.

#1 – Plan your follow-up in advance.

Yes, I know more guests is the goal.
But before that happens, go ahead and create your follow-up process.
Decide right now what’s going to happen when someone visits your church.
If you haven’t had a first-time guest in 3 years and everyone in your church is related to you, this is where I would start.
The very act of creating the follow-up process will help you build an inviting culture and chip away at an insider mindset.
To start a plan, use The Follow-Up Framework from Church Fuel.
The framework has four key questions:

  • What do you want first-time guests to know?
  • What do you want first-time guests to do?
  • What do you want first-time guests to feel?
  • What do you want first-time guests to believe?

Head to this page to watch a short training video on the framework, and download the free template.
Once you’ve answered these foundational questions, you can sketch out your actual process.
Go to a whiteboard or open a flowchart tool and start outlining the experience.  Think about what you want to send people the week after they visit and stretch things out to as long as three months.
Your process might include some of the following steps:

  • An immediate text message. Text In Church can help here, and their guest follow-up template is a breeze to implement.
  • A phone call or voicemail.  A church in Charlotte, NC uses SlyDial to leave a ringless voicemail for a guest. The person’s phone never rings, but a voicemail is waiting for them when they get to the parking lot.
  • An automated email sequence. The content of these emails can be tailored to new people and answer the most common questions.  Don’t try and share everything in your follow-up emails; be personal and conversational.
  • A handwritten thank you note.  In the digital age, this might feel antiquated, but it’s one of the most personal, and often the most effective, follow-up strategies.

You have to decide how long your campaign will last, how many steps you want to include, and what tactics you want to employ.  Try things and see what works in your setting.  Then adjust as needed.

#2 – Design your service with guests in mind.

Gavin Adams, the former Lead Pastor at Woodstock City Church, says we should not worry about being seeker-sensitive, but we should strive to be seeker-comprehensible.
The fact of the matter is many church services are designed for people who understand how church services work.  They assume people know what’s going on and have context for everything happening.
Your church members know the drill.
But new people don’t understand.
It’s not because they are dumb, it’s because they are new.
That’s why it is important to design everything in your church service with guests in mind.
Pretend someone is there for the very first time.  Pretend a 5th grader is attending “big church” for the first time in his life.
Keep those people in mind as you plan out what to say during the welcome, choose the songs to sing, and even preach your sermon.
This isn’t about dumbing down or watering down…it’s simply about explaining everything for new people.
And yes.
Every.  Single.  Time.
When regulars say, “We get it…you don’t have to explain it any more,” remind them the explanation is not for them but for new people.
You probably don’t need to change anything you do and you may not need to adjust anything you are planning to preach.  You just need to explain it.
Here are some examples.

  • If you’re asking people to turn to a book of the Bible, give specific directions and context.  Don’t assume people know where Philippians is.
  • If you’re observing the sacraments of Baptism or Communion, explain the meaning every single time.  Don’t assume people know what it means or why it’s important.
  • If you receive an offering, explain how to participate.  It might sound silly, but this is one of the most important moments in your church service.
  • If you’re making announcements, don’t toss around ministry names that won’t mean anything to a guest.

If you assume everyone is an insider, actions like these aren’t really necessary.  But if you’re trying to create a culture where guests are both welcome and expected, these steps are very important.
This kind of intentionality is how you build the right mindset.

#3 – Equip your people to invite.

In The Unchurched Next Door, Thom Rainer says eight out of ten unchurched adults said they would come to church—if only someone would invite them.
You probably know that personal invitations are the most effective way to reach new people.  But how do you get your church to actually follow through with this?
Churches often do a great job encouraging their people to invite their friends, neighbors, and co-workers. But encouragement and equipping are two different things.
People don’t just need encouragement to invite, they need the tools. You need to do more than ask them to bring people to church, you need to give them resources that make it easy to follow through.
Some ways you can do this are:

  • Print invite cards and place them at the doors.  
  • Write a Facebook post and send it to people with specific directions on when to post.
  • Create sharable graphics for people to use on social media.
  • Preach regularly on evangelism, inviting, and outreach, highlighting these specific tools in your messages.

Want to read more on this?  Here are 19 ways to equip your church to invite.
Equipping your church to invite is a key step in creating a culture where guests are welcome and expected.
Maybe you’ve tried a few things, but you just can’t get your members to invite others?  Here’s an article that may give you some fresh ideas: What do you do when your people won’t invite?

#4 – Make reaching guests a priority.

The biggest thing holding many churches back isn’t a lack of space, an outdated facility, a poor website, or a faltering program.
It’s a mindset.
Some leaders have a stuck mindset, falling back to the way things are because embracing change appears too difficult.
Some churches have an insider mindset, choosing to continue programs that benefit long-time members but ignoring the needs of changing communities.
If your church is going to reach unchurched people, it’s going to require the right mindset.
And this is hard.
It takes more than a sermon on mission and leaders to “cast a big vision.”
Reaching new people requires tough conversations, culture-building, feedback and evaluation, and a whole lot of intentionality.
It might require you to change your focus, change your activities, and even change your structure.
Even though your church should be well-balanced between evangelism and discipleship, there are times when you need to intentionally focus on one aspect of the Great Commission.
Course corrections are needed to maintain balance.

#5 – Set a goal for this season.

Whenever we ask pastors how many new volunteers they need, how much money they need to raise for ministry, or how many guests they want to reach, the answer is usually the same.
That’s a great sentiment.
But more is not a number. It’s a moving target that can never be reached.
If you want to reach new guests this year, start by prayerfully setting a specific goal.
Talk about the priority of reaching new people, the Great Commission, and the mission of your church, and then make it a goal to reach a specific number of new people.
When you have a real number, you can deploy resources to meet it.
Without a specific goal, you’ll oscillate between feeling good and feeling bad, with no real facts to guide your way.
What should your goal be?
That’s a matter for prayer and discussion among your leaders.
A good guideline might be 5-10 weekly guests for every 100 people in attendance.  Start with that baseline and go from there.
Look at your current numbers, consider your situation, and set a real goal.

Take a Next Step

As you read this list, hopefully you’re inspired to try new things to reach new people.
Ultimately, church growth is up to God.  It’s His Church and His Kingdom.  But He chooses to use us, and we have a stewardship opportunity.
For more practical advice on church growth, check out The Senior Pastor’s Guide to Reaching More People.  This free guide has 32 pages of advice, ideas, and strategies that you can implement in your church.

Download the guide here.